Nova Scotia

N.S. theatre groups welcome aid money offered by province

Arts groups are relieved the Nova Scotia government is finally offering them emergency aid to help them survive the pandemic, but several say they will need much more help to allow them to one day reopen their doors to larger audiences.

Province making up to $75,000 apiece available to eligible arts and culture groups

Two Planks and a Passion's production of The Tempest, directed by Ken Schwartz. Left to right: Jeff Schwager, Jamie Konchak, Chris O’Neill. Costumes by Jennifer Goodman. (Ross Creek Centre for the Arts)

The Nova Scotia government's offer for "emergency support" for arts and culture groups has come as a welcome relief to Chris O'Neill, executive director of the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts in Canning, N.S.

On Thursday, the McNeil government announced a $2.1-million program for arts and culture organizations that makes available up to $75,000 apiece to eligible groups.

"I am so grateful that something has come out," O'Neill said.

Those that are eligible include about 100 groups that receive annual operating support from the province, and another 100 or so that have received funding from the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage for individual projects during the past three years. Organizations have just one month to apply.

Like many arts organizations, the Ross Creek Centre was able to offer summer programs, albeit to smaller-than-normal groups and almost exclusively to those who live nearby. But its affiliated theatre company, Two Planks and a Passion, postponed its entire 2020 season. The hope is it can be go ahead next year.

"This is to help us through this immediate crisis moment, but then when we look at reopening in the next fiscal, we're hoping that they'll be some reopening stuff as well," said O'Neill.

If the centre receives the money, O'Neill knows how it will be spent.

"It's the extra things that we need to be able to operate," she said. "Everything from hand sanitizers to the extra cleaning that we have to do.

"Everything just costs more right now. Takes longer, costs more and requires more people."

Andrea Boyd is artistic director for Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre. (Submitted by Andrea Boyd)

Andrea Boyd, artistic director for Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre, was also glad to see the province come through with financial aid. 

"It's been a long time coming," she said. "It was early in the spring that there was an announcement that there would be funds coming, and it's only now that we're hearing about it, so we are kind of relieved to hear about it."

She said the theatre lost $300,000 in the summer. The theatre laid off two of its four-person staff, but has since rehired its production manager in the hopes of mounting a 2021 season.

"We're really hoping with this announcement that we'll be successful in getting that money and going back to four full-time people in order to be able to administratively support any creative ideas that we have for the future," she said.

The artistic director of Nova Scotia's largest professional theatre, Neptune, was also happy to see some aid, but Jeremy Webb was also looking down the road.

"With our revenue having vanished overnight back in March, we're down $1.7 million in the first three months of this pandemic alone, so there is no doubt that every single penny helps," said Webb. "We'll be applying for that and we'll be applying for it in full.

"We need to survive so that we're here, ready to serve our community and continue to operate out of this building in downtown Halifax."

Jeremy Webb is artistic director of Neptune Theatre. (Isabelle Chevrier)

Webb said while the aid was welcome, more money would be needed to ensure Neptune and other theatres are able to hang on long enough to survive the pandemic.

"We need to look to a more long-term situation," he said. "One of the things that we've pitched to the minister and we're very open to working with the department in multi-year support to basically get the arts and culture sector back on its feet again, when we're able to do so."

But the new cabinet minister responsible for Culture, Communities and Heritage, Suzanne Lohns-Croft, wasn't ready Thursday to commit to future funding beyond the emergency aid.

"We're just looking at this fiscal year right now," she told CBC News. "So that remains to be determined what their needs may be."

She said her focus was on getting the emergency funds to groups that needed it as quickly as possible, and acknowledged the help would not meet all their needs.

"This isn't going to make them whole again, but it's emergency funding, so it will help some of them to get back on their feet a bit, look after maybe reinventing themselves in some way so that they can function," said Lohns-Croft.

For now, arts groups are happy the province has answered their pleas for help.

"It's one piece of a puzzle, but it's an important piece because it's the piece that was missing," said O'Neill.